Section 18: Out of hours medical services
86.GPs undertake 24 hour responsibility for patients. GPs may discharge this in a number of ways: by providing the service personally; in a rota with other practices; by joining a GP co-operative; by employing a commercial deputising service established for the purpose of providing an out-of-hours service for GPs; or a combination of two or more of these.
87.Section 18 provides powers to regulate the provision of out-of-hours services. The body to be regulated is any person or persons providing out-of-hours cover to GPs that will have to be accredited by a Health Authority. Accreditation is intended to ensure the delivery of out-of-hours GP patient care to consistent high quality standards. This was recommended in the independent Report Raising Standards for Patients, New Partnerships in Out of Hours Care which considered how consistent high quality services could be made available across the country. Concern had also been expressed by the Health Services Commissioner (the “Ombudsman”) about the quality and responsiveness of out-of-hours services provided in some areas.
88.Regulations may specify those who are to be accredited under the regulations, the procedure for applying for accreditation, any conditions with which accredited bodies must comply and the transfer of liability from the GP to the out of hours service provider. They may also provide for the withdrawal or suspension of approval by Health Authorities as well as the criteria to be used in making decisions under the regulations.
89.Once this section has come into force, existing powers under the 1977 Act and the 1997 Act will be used to effect consequential changes to the Terms and Conditions of Service for GPs and to the Directions for the Implementation of Personal Medical Services to ensure that GPs use only accredited providers of out-of-hours services.